No. 8: UCLA. Rick Neuheisel has done a good job recruiting since taking over at UCLA in December of 2007, but the program has yet to reap the benefits. There are several young players on the Bruins roster with potential, but there’s nothing to demonstrate UCLA will suddenly put it together this season and finish any better than its eighth-place standing last year.
The Bruins biggest problem is they are lacking at the skill positions. UCLA enters another season without a dangerous tailback. Johnathan Franklin led the Bruins in rushing last season with 556 yards but saw his playing time dwindle as the year went on. Before it’s all said and done, UCLA might go with one of two true freshman at tailback — highly coveted Malcom Jones or Jordon James.
Quarterback Kevin Prince has potential, but he needs an upgrade in receivers. Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree provide big targets but neither is a gamebreaker. UCLA may need a big contribution from Josh Smith, a Colorado transfer who was an All-Big 12 kick returner. He has the explosiveness to give Prince a deep threat down the field.
But Prince will need to stay back in the pocket first, and that prospect is dicey with UCLA’s offensive line. This unit wasn’t very good last year and the Bruins lost starting left tackle Xavier Su’a-Filo to his Mormon mission. Key backup Stan Hasiak, a onetime Cal commit, is also out because of academics.
Defense kept UCLA in games last year and the Bruins will need that to happen again this year. Despite the loss of Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year Brian Price, the Bruins should have one of the conference’s top defenses with Rahim Moore anchoring the secondary and athletic linebacker Akeem Ayers making plays all over the field. Moore led the nation last year with 10 interceptions while Ayers had 75 tackles, six sacks and four interceptions (two returned for touchdowns).
UCLA also features arguably the nation’s best kicker, Kai Forbath.